By Chuck Hill
Wines of the Week Archive
In the days of yore, when I was teaching wine classes (1980s and 1990s), the price of fancy French wines had yet to go into outer space. I could buy Grand Cru Chablis and other white delights from Burgundy for $40 to $50 dollars and share the experience with a dozen serious wine students. Today, those same wines are $100 plus, and the ones that make it to the U.S. (west coast) aren’t necessarily the best. So it goes.
What these wines offer is complex character of fruit and mineral that takes Chardonnay to its ultimate appeal. What American consumers have learned to like about Chardonnay are bright fruit flavors, tropical notes, some crisp finishing acidity and vanilla/toasty notes in barrel-aged versions. Wines that are barrel fermented and aged for extended time also can have lees character for added complexity.
Erin Nuccio makes wines under both the Haden Fig label and under the label of his predecessor Evesham Wood. His devotion to quality crafting of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and other varietals leads the wines in the direction of the Old World model, and my tasters were impressed with the balance and character of his Chardonnay. Apple and spicy lemon mingle with tropical fruits and hints of oak and vanilla – a great food wine.
The Chardonnays of Oregon certainly lead the way in approaching the quality and style of the white Burgundies of France. No one is better than Luisa Ponzi at creating great wines from unique vineyards and blending to coax the optimum aroma and flavor from each vintage. One sees glimpses of Burgundian austerity through a veil of complex citrus, stone fruits and floral perfume with notes of spicy vanilla and “a vein of acidity that radiates through the finish.” Brava!
The vintage of 2015 was the earliest in the history of King Estate Winery, providing ripe fruit and balancing acidity. The winemakers whole-cluster pressed the grapes and fermented in barrel, followed by five months of sur lie aging. Look for aromas and flavors of stone fruits, citrus and melon, surrounded by a bouquet of floral aromas and toasty brioche. Serve this wine with elegant seafood preparations or Chef Ted’s pork tenderloin chops with artichoke hearts, fennel seed and toasted pine nuts.
Christophe Hedges of Hedges Family Estate crafts the House of Independent Producers line of wines with the motto, “You are what you drink.” Christophe eschews point scores by wine publications, insisting that each individual is better served by trying wines for themselves. The HIP Chardonnay is certainly a crowd pleaser, offering pear and citrus combined with tropical fruits, baking spice and hints of vanilla on the finish.
The Franzia family of California wine fame has embraced the Pacific Northwest, crafting wines in both Washington and Oregon. Winemaker Bob Stashak made this delightful Chardonnay from Columbia Valley grapes and hit a home run for combining elements of New World and Old World styles. Apple and pear start the party with zingy notes of tropical fruit embracing the core, and tangy acidity follows to extend the flavorful, food-friendly finish.
I lauded winemaker Mike Januik last week for his Cold Creek Chardonnay, and his Stillwater Creek wine for Novelty Hill is equally appealing. Aromas and flavors of spicy pear, stone fruits and vanilla lead to the “finish” line of earthy mineral and crisp acidity.
When seeking a value-priced Chardonnay, balance and structure in the fruit becomes equally important with the niceties of expensive French oak and extended time that are the hallmarks of higher-priced bottlings. The winemakers at Ste. Michelle Wine Estates, parent of the 14 Hands brand, are experts at putting great wine into a bottle at a remarkable price point. Look for pear and white peach with notes of citrus and vanilla – nice to sip, nice to savor with a meal.
This all-stainless Chardonnay is hailed by the winery with the suggestion of “Enjoy now with Bouillabaisse, fish tacos, and French onion soup.” I would add that the wine is a perfect warm-day sipper offering aromas and flavors of Pink Lady apples, tropical fruits, floral notes and hints of lemon and apricot. A kiss of residual sugar invites pouring a glass for Grandma with a postprandial light dessert.
Wine by Joe
I, and my tasters, are big fans of Joe Dobbes and his wide variety of superb Oregon wines. His entry-level wines are marketed under the “Wine by Joe” label and are among the best bargains in Northwest wine. It is hard for a $14 wine to show Old World character, but WBJ Chardonnay offers complex fruit of tropical guava, pear and papaya with a crisp palate showing tart grapefruit with a hint of creamy lemon on the finish.
The beautiful Snake River Valley of southern Idaho has been a prime agricultural area for almost two centuries, but wine grapes and their associated wine industry have only been on the scene for about the last 40 years. This bargain-priced, New World-style Chardonnay was fermented in a combination of French and American oak, lending plenty of vanilla and coconut to the fruit core of pear and Honeycrisp apple.
The Miller family grows 27 different wine grape varieties on more than 900 acres of vineyards in Washington’s Yakima Valley. Each of their wines is crafted from estate grapes. Their 2015 Chardonnay was aged in 50% neutral French oak and 50% stainless steel to yield a food-friendly wine offering aromas and flavors of spicy pear, apple and notes of citrus and orchard blossom.
Since the late 1980s, I have been privileged to report journalistically on the Hogue Cellars as one of Washington’s pioneer wineries. Many great wines (created by a succession of talented winemakers) have come from their Yakima Valley vineyards. The 2015 Chardonnay Reserve was meticulously crafted from a selection of those vineyards to produce a wine with aromas and flavors of ripe apple and pear with notes of toasty almond, vanilla and finishing notes of baking spice and toasty oak.
Wines from other areas
Domaine Rothschild Lafite
Who knew there was superb, Old World style Chardonnay being made in the south of France? This wine comes mainly from vineyards in the Languedoc and gives the wine lovey complex notes of citrus and pear with delightful acidity and notes of mineral – a great pairing for seafood, fowl and flavorful appetizers.
Marques de Casa Concha
The Marques de Casa Concha wines from Concha y Toro of Chile offer great value. The cool climate Limari growing region preserves the acidity and allows longer ripening time to produce a wine offering ripe aromas of pear, toasted hazelnut and earthy mineral. The palate is well balanced with flavors of citrus, tropical fruits and a creamy lemon finish.
This crisp and clean Chardonnay from northeastern Italy offers hints of Old World style for pairing with lighter meats, seafood and mild risottos. The nose is light and shows stone fruits, melon and tropical citrus. The palate expands with flavors promised by the aroma and adds hints of herbs and flinty mineral.
Grapes for Carmel Road wines come from cool-climate vineyards in the Santa Lucia Mountains, inland from Monterey’s rugged coastline. This flavorful unoaked Chardonnay is bright and youthful with fruit-forward aromas and flavors of peach and pear with balancing acidity on the finish.
To find contact information for most of the wineries
in the above text,
May, 2017 Chuck Hill
May, 2017 Chuck Hill